"Ken, I need an a cappella group!"
That's probably something I hear, at least once a day. Since establishing A Cappella Central, back in 1996, as a stand-alone entity at Prince/SF Productions, our requests for pro, semi-pro, collegiate and amateur a cappella artists has grown exponentially. It also answers the big question, "Waddayawannabe when you grow up?"...for me, at least. I've been singing in and writing for a cappella groups for most of my life, and when it came time for me to make a gigantic career shift, managing and representing them was the logical step; hence, Prince/SF Productions (wherein we also represent a wide variety of performing artists) and, ultimately, A Cappella Central. I now am what I'm supposed to be, when I grow up...and I love it, more and more, each day. I am perfectly suited to this job. Having been on the performing side of the industry for so many years and knowing the needs of artists, I can better represent them in the business end of things.
Which brings me to laying out a few guidelines for groups desiring to "get out there." How do you do it...and why should you do it...and perhaps most importantly, how do you get to someone like me, an agent/manager, to do it for you?
Briefly, it's all in the marketing, imaging and promotion...and, one would hope, in something that's of quality or uniqueness and worthy of consideration. Subjective? Of course. But this is a business, and we are in the business of selling talent. What sells? Look around you. Next question? How do you sell what you've got? Ahah! This information will be old hat to many who read it, but if you are an aspiring artist, want to put a group together and make a go of it, to some degree, here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
#1. ACT PROFESSIONAL!!! The last thing we look for are artists who have attitude problems or don't know what it means to be responsible and reliable. There are so many groups out there...and you can always be replaced; so, if you want to make and keep a good impression, be cool. Go with the flow. Know what your limitations are...and really be honest with yourself. The rest is a walk in the park, as long as your "ammunition" is in place.
#2. Your "ammuntion" is, basically, your promotional packet. Visit casa.org and check out the page on developing your press kit and demo material (bio; photos; song list; press; appearances; endorsements; audio; video).
#3. Your "protection" comes next. We don't know what you need until you tell us, so prepare a technical rider, stage plot, hospitality rider, and perhaps even your own contract; although most independent contractors will create a contract for you, to which you should attach your rider(s). And remember, nobody can force you to sign anything! A contract is an agreement. If you can't agree to something...after reasonable negotiations, it's OK to say No. And remember, you might not always get what you ask for, in your rider. "No little blue candies"?...fuggeddabbouddit!
#4. "Buy-sell" situations may occur, wherein an agent will buy an artist direct, then resell the artist to another buyer, who will be the end purchaser. All buyers involved usually will do their best to accommodate the needs of the artist, which is why the riders will be necessary. Really, we are trying to do our best for you. Sidebar: I once was involved in a buy-sell with a major artist who had a lengthy (and somewhat absurd), multi-paged rider. In order for the deal to reach fruition and to appeal to the end buyer and the artist, various items on the rider had to be eliminated. You don't...and sometimes can't...get what you want. It's just the nature of the business.
"How do I price my band?"
Competitively. Better to be "price friendly," at first, instead of blowing your chances. If you're lucky enough to land an agent, a price will be established for you. And there are different prices for different markets. A little street festival gig may pay zip ("...but you can sell your CD's... and it'll be great exposure!!!"...), whereas a corporate gig can pay $1,000 and more, depending upon the stature of your act and the power of your agent. A word of advice: *Don't be greedy!* It don't pay off, in the long run.
"After my group is up and running, how soon can we expect to go full time?"
Oh brother! If I had a nickel for each time I've heard that one... Going pro/full-time is really biting the bullet bigtime. The only clear answer I can offer to that one is, "It will become blatantly obvious." When you finally are being booked beyond your wildest dreams, then it's time to quit your day job and get real about committing to a full-time career...and that's where you'll usually see the men separating from the boys. It's a career choice...and a scary one, but if you've got what it takes...more power to you! As for how you actually get that far, it's usually all in how your agent(s) and manager have developed you...into how many markets you've been introduced and/or (and this is a biggie) are *appropriate* for. The various main markets are: college/university; fair/festival; fine arts, and corporate. And if you're talking really bigtime, on the level of major pop/rock recording artists playing arena and shed gigs and doing world tours...you'd better have something going on with a manager that knows what he's doing, at that level, and has major industry relationships developed...and in this business, it's all about relationships.
"How do I get an agent?"
The Yellow Pages are a good start. In all major markets and in most minor- major markets, you should find listings for Entertainers, Musicians, Talent. You might also contact a local club, fair, festival, school, etc., and ask the talent buyer about recommending an agent. CAVEAT: There are a gajillion agencies out there, and many of them already have an established roster of artists and will not have the time or interest to consider your act, no matter how good you or your family or your best friends think and say you are. You might have to act as your own agent, for a while. Eventually, if you've got what it takes, and your "ammo" is in gear, an agent will materialize for you.
"Do I really need a manager?"
Yes and No. It all depends upon how far you want to go. Many groups manage themselves and do a fine job of it. The basic difference between an agent and a manager is, the agent books the band. Period. That's all he's supposed to do and, really, that's rather all he's *allowed* to do. The manager gets his artist the proper agent(s), to develop his artist in the appropriate market(s), and functions as career guide/motivator/counselor/accountant/publicist/crying towel and buttwiper, but primarily as a conduit to secure a label deal, if indeed that's where the artist wants to go...*and really has something for the recording industry.* At that point, an entertainment attorney is an absolute necessity.
"How do I find a manager?"
Assuming you'd actually need one, they will find you. Word will get around.
"Can I make a living doing this, even if I don't have a manager or a label?"
Sure. There are groups that tour the U.S. college market and play the regional fairs and festivals all year long, and sell their independently produced CD's, along with their t-shirts, jockey shorts, keychains... If this is what you crave to do, there will always be a way, and I hope you get there. Good Luck!
Ken is president of A Cappella Central, the world's only all a cappella booking agency. In his many years in the vocal field and entertainment industry, Ken has nurtured and supported a cappella artists in a variety of ways: manager (founder/director/arranger of The Merrie Olde Christmas Carolers; The EDLOS; The House Jacks; m-pact; Graffiti Tribe); CD executive producer (The House Jacks; m-pact; The Mighty Prince Singers; The Gospel Girls); commissioned arranger (San Francisco Opera Chorus; SF Symphony Chorus; SF Boys & Girls Choruses; Chanticleer, etc.); agent (Take 6; The Nylons; Rockapella; The Persuasions; Swingle Singers; and literally scores of pro and semi-pro groups around the country and abroad); and commercially recorded arranger (Chanticleer; The ELDOS; SF Choral Artists; Merrie Olde Christmas Carolers; measureXmeasure).
He has also consulted for, judged, promoted, publicized and produced a variety of artists and festivals. A cappella is his true love, having been involved in it from his youth, as a charter member of the SF Boys Chorus, and throughout the years, as a long term member of SF Opera Chorus, The Lamplighters Gilbert & Sullivan company (wherein lie many a cappella ensembles) and a variety of choral groups. An ASCAP member for nearly 30 years, Ken has published an extensive catalog of a cappella, vocal-instrumental and instrumental works, the latest of which, a f ive-part male a cappella arrangement of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, will receive its American and international premieres in the fall of 2000.
Contact Ken at email@example.com
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